(CNSNews.com) – President Trump caused a brief kerfuffle Tuesday when he said in response to a reporter’s question in London that the U.S. does not support protesting Iranians.
He soon corrected himself, saying he had assumed the question related to financial support for the protestors. Trump then added that, although the U.S. does not support the protestors financially and has not been asked to do so, “if somebody asked, maybe we would.”
During a joint press appearance with French President Emmanuel Macron at the residence of the American ambassador, Trump was asked, “Does the United States support these protestors in Iran?”
“I don’t want to comment on that,” the president replied. “But the answer is ‘no.’”
The comment sparked a wave of consternation and criticism on social media.
Despite the fact that the Trump administration has been the most outspoken government anywhere in support of Iranians protesting against the clerical regime, critics slammed the president, with some accusing him of offering “de facto support” for the regime.
Some wondered whether he had perhaps been swayed by Macron, who is spearheading E.U. efforts to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat after Trump’s withdrawal last year.
About half an hour later, this time seated alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump began his comments by revisiting his earlier answer.
As he did so, a tweet was posted on his official Twitter feed, reading, “The United States of America supports the brave people of Iran who are protesting for their FREEDOM. We have under the Trump Administration, and always will!”
“A question was asked just a little while ago about supporting the people protesting in Iran and [who] are going through a very tough period,” Trump told the gathered media representatives. “And we do support them totally, and have supported them from the beginning.”
Trump said he thought the question referred to supporting the protestors “financially.”
“And we haven’t supported them – I don’t know that we’ve ever been actually asked to support them – financially. And I, you know, if somebody asked, maybe we would.”
“But we support them very, very seriously,” he said. “The people that are protesting in Iran, they’re looking for their freedom, and we are fully in support of them.”
‘We condemn the lethal force’
The administration’s support for the protestors has been evident from the outset of the wave of unrest that began shortly after President Hassan Rouhani on November 15 announced a steep fuel price hike and rationing.
On November 17 the White House said the U.S. “supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.”
“We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators,” it said in a statement.
As the protests continued, met by a regime crackdown and Internet blackout, Trump tweeted on November 22, “Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country ... They want ZERO transparency, thinking the world will not find out the death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!”
The death toll in the crackdown passed 750 on Tuesday, according to the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has released the names of 255 people reportedly killed. Amnesty International put the number at at least 208, but said the actual toll was likely much higher.
Trump earlier Tuesday said the regime “is killing perhaps thousands and thousands of people, right now, as we speak,” adding that “they cut off the Internet so people can’t see what’s going on.”
Beyond rhetorical support, the administration’s response to the protests included an invitation by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for Iranians to send in images and information about regime abuses – within five days 20,000 messages had poured in – as well as the imposition of sanctions against the minister responsible for Internet censorship.
Some observers say the protests, reported from more than 180 towns and cities in all 31 of the country’s provinces, are the most widespread since the 1979 revolution.
Previous episodes of anti-regime demonstrations included one in 2009, when Iranians angered by the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the streets, and a series that broke out in December 2017 and continued in 2018.
During the 2009 events, President Obama attracted some criticism for his cautious response. The regime reaction included dozens of killings and mass arrests, but it was only ten days after the protests erupted that he condemned the crackdown explicitly for the first time.
Three months earlier, Obama had offered the regime a “new beginning” of engagement and improved cooperation.